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Sell the Appointment, Not the Car!

The question that dealers consistently ask me is “what are the keys to success on your special finance leads program,” or “how do dealers close 15% or higher of your auto finance leads when we struggle to close 5%?”  Obviously access to lenders and inventory are key, but let’s assume that we are talking about a dealership that is committed to subprime with the knowledge and resources to get credit challenged customers approved.

Possibly the easiest way to identify the keys to success is to first identify the recipe for failure. 

Typically failing dealers have a few things in common: 1.) They do not contact the leads in a timely fashion 2.) They prequalify the customers before they contact them. 3.)  When they do contact the customer, they try to sell the car not the appointment.

For now, I would like to focus on the last of these issues.

The first thing that we have to realize is that it doesn’t matter what a customer’s credit score, income, or cash down situation is if we cannot get that customer into the dealership.  One common mistake that experienced sales or finance people make is to get into too much detail over the phone.  Talking about cash down or specific inventory will do nothing more than discourage a customer from coming in to the dealership.

Once a customer is face-to-face, it is much easier to control the situation and direct the individual towards a car that not only fits their needs but is a finance-able option.  When the customer is able to feel, touch and experience the car, they are much more likely to find extra money down or convince someone to cosign for them.

Some dealers attempt to get a customer approved before they set an appointment and bring them in.  The major issue with that is when you tell a customer they are approved,  you take someone who thought no one could help them and turn them into a shopper that will go to any dealer across town.  The key is to sell the appointment and take the customer out of the market.  Invite the customer down and let them know that you have access to a wide variety of used cars as well as a variety of lenders who are experienced in working with less than perfect credit.

Create a sense of urgency by letting them know you need to verify their information in order to secure financing and set an appointment within 48 hours.  Going into any further detail with the customer will only limit opportunities and result in fewer car sales.  So remember SELL THE APPOINTMENT NOT THE CAR!!

Brian Matthews is an account executive for Carloan.com. He has been helping dealers with their sales and marketing processes since 2007. You can reach Brian at 804-521-8569 or bmatthewsATcarloan.com.


Bart Wilson
Great info. As a salesperson I was guilty of pre-qualifying over the phone so I didn't waste my time (part of the reason is our special finance was not very robust). Those calls never ended well. I would convince the caller to submit an app, find a car and an approval (which takes a lot of time), then call the customer and tell them I got an approval. Inevitably they would then ask what type of car it was and I would then try to sell a car over the phone. All that to not waste my time.
Brian Matthews
I have definitely heard that story before Bart. I think it is human nature to want to conserve time and not deal with a customer that we fear has no hope of getting approved. The reality is that we just don't know a customer's situation and prequalifying the customer will not only limit our opportunities but make it harder to sell those that we deem "qualified." Rarely is a sales person so busy that they don't have the time to counsel with a few extra customers a day. When able to touch and feel the car you never know what additional lengths the customer will go to in order to secure a down payment or co-signer. Also if you treat the customer right and develop a relationship, those who don't qualify today may help you hit your number in months to come!

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